Published in the March edition of the Journal of Nutrition, the researchers from the University of Illinois, in conjunction with Mars Inc, compared groups eating sterol and non-sterol fortified chocolate with only those eating sterol chocolate registering significantly lower levels of cholesterol. Sterol benefits In the double-blind, placebo controlled, cross-over study, a group of 24-70 year-olds were fed Mars Inc sterol-imbued CocoaVia chocolate bars and, as part of a balanced diet, it was found that total cholesterol was lowered by two per cent and LDL cholesterol by 5.3 per cent. They then consumed regular dark chocolate but no significant reduction in either form of cholesterol was detected. There was no wash-out period between the two interventions. The CocoaVia-consuming group also recorded reduced systolic blood pressure levels of five per cent in the eight-week trial (four weeks on each chocolate form). The American Heart Association estimates about half of all Americans have high cholesterol levels and one third with high blood pressure. Cocoa and cocoa-containing products, including chocolate, can be rich sources of a subclass of flavonoids known as flavanols and their structurally related oligomers known as procyanidins. "We know that Americans are increasingly looking for foods to help them maintain their health," said study co-author and Mars research scientist, Catherine Kwik-Uribe, PhD. "Our study supports the possibility that chocolate products specially formulated to contain both plant sterols and cocoa flavanols can, in the context of a balanced diet, be a practical and enjoyable dietary strategy to help support healthy cholesterol levels and a healthy blood pressure" Sterol call Forty nine men and women with elevated cholesterol took part in the trial which had them eat an American Heart Association-recommended diet in addition to the chocolate products that were exchanged after four weeks. The chocolate bars were identical bar the inclusion of sterols. Both contained 180mg of cocoa flavanols as well as identical levels of calories, nutrients, theobromine, caffeine and other nutrients. The plant sterol-imbued CocoaVia chocolate bars contained 1.1gms of plant sterols. Participant blood cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body weight, and other cardiovascular measures were taken during the eight-week study. Plant sterols, natural compounds found in certain vegetable oils, cereals, fruits and vegetables, have previously been shown to be safe and effective in lowering cholesterol levels, and this study adds to that body of research. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association produced similar results. Sterol foods and beverages were pioneered by Benecol in 1994 when it launched a spread in Scandinavia. The category has grown to include milks, yoghurts, cheeses, juices, chocolate and other confectionery and more. Source 'Daily Consumption of a Dark Chocolate Containing Flavanols and Added Sterol Esters Affects Cardiovascular Risk Factors in a Normotensive Population with Elevated Cholesterol' Journal of Nutrition, 138: 725-731, 2008. Authors: Robin R. Allen, LeaAnn Carson, Catherine Kwik-Uribe, Ellen M. Evans and John W. Erdman Jr.